They all seem cut from the same mold -- a stubby one -- but for a few brief hours Saturday afternoon in Annapolis, four of the Redskins' young free-agent runners will be trying to do something spectacular to break away from the pack and closer to a position on the final roster.
With the rest of the veteran backs reporting to camp Saturday, the team's 2 p.m. scrimmage against the Colt rookies and free agents at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium will be one of the last times these four will have the spotlight.
Although Coach Jack Pardee plans to look at veterans Bobby Hammond and Don Testerman in the early stages of the game-condition scrimmage, most of the ball carrying will be done by Sam Thomas (5-foot-11, 190 pounds), Ricky Claitt (5-10, 206), Ron Harkless (5-10, 215) and Arthur (Turtle) Lane (5-8, 186).
After five days of two-a-day practices, none of the four has especially impressed the coaches. Thomas, who did not attend college and made his mark in semipro ball, is the quickest. Claitt has proven to be the best blocker, Lane the most disciplined and Harkless the most powerful runner.
"It's time that we see them under game conditions," said Fred O'Connor, the running back coach. "Under controlled conditions here in practice, they are all doing certain things well. But it's at the point where we need to know more about them, to see if they figure in our plans."
Their odds have been diminished by the excellent play of Buddy Hardeman, a potential starter opposite John Riggins, and Hammond, once the New York Giants' most valuable player, in the early stages of camp.
"The competition has tightened up because of Bobby's play," O'Connor said. "He never really caught on with us last year (after coming over from New York). And we never had a chance to really work with him. Now we've started from scratch and he looks like the same smart, quick runner he was two years ago with the Giants."
Hammond twice gained more than 500 yards for the Giants before injuring a shoulder and being waived last year.
"I feel better than I've ever felt running," Hammond said. "I can see the holes and the blockers better. I think I've shown them this week what I am capable of doing. It's the way I've been playing ever since I came in the league."
With Riggins, Hardeman ("He's so versatile, it's amazing," O'Connor said) and Clarence Harmon assured of roster spots, the club still needs two or three more backs.
Hammond, veteran Ike Forte and Benny Malone, last Year's halfback starter, will be given careful looks and, O'Connor said, Testerman and any of the free agents could survive what has become one of the most highly competitive battles in camp.
Speed alone gives Thomas an edge. Of all the Redskins' runners, he is the quickest once he turns the corner. But this also is his first time playing in such a highly organized offense, and he is lacking the discipline demanded by the coaches.
"He is tough as a blocker, which is a plus," O'Connor said. "So far he has picked things up, but we've been with him in the huddle, going over his assignments. Now we have to find out if he can use his speed and stay within the blocking scheme.
"If he does well, he could be a surprise. He's had some great semipro years (three times more than 1,000 yards) which are an indication to us of his talent."
Claitt is more geared to be a fullback. He has strong legs and an acceleration coaches love to talk about. But he comes from a small-scale program at Bethune-Cookman, which, O'Connor says, sometimes can be a handicap.
"No knock on any small school," O'Connor said, "but things are just different for them if they went to a bigger place, like a Michigan or a Notre Dame. This is a whole new world to them, but not so to players from bigger schools.
"Ricky is a really good blocker, but he's not very fast. He isn't going to run 50 yards for a touchdown for you but, because of his quickness, he'll break off a lot of 20-yarders."
Lane comes from a major program, Arizona State, but was not drafted because he is so small. And despite his obvious running skills, his size is proving a major problem for him here.
"Turtle has the best running instincts of the four of them," O'Connor said. "He can pick up the blocking and he has the discipline to let things form and to go to the right hole.
"But his size has to be taken into consideration. He does a decent job blocking, but he has to make sure he uses the proper techniques so his size won't hinder him."
Harkless, also more of a fullback, had a slower start in camp than his three rivals, thanks to two sore groin muscles.
O'Connor told him early this week to not go full speed, but to pace himself through practice, "so he could still perform and learn what we are doing, but not go fast enough to hurt himself more."
But Saturday, Harkless will be told to go all out, so the staff can see if the rest has helped him regain his May minicamp form.
"He has good size and he has been able to show good power going against the dummies in practice," O'Connor said. "Now the question is, can he generate the same kind of power against moving targets in a game?
"He's the biggest of the four and the most powerful. He's the tough-yardage guy. He can go 225-plus and keep his current speed. That would be good size for us to have, if he can learn to run within our system."
Harkless attended Nicholls State in Louisiana, where he gained 365 yards as a senior. He was one of the first free agents General Manager Bobby Beathard targeted for signing after the draft ended in May.
This also is an important day for Testerman, who had a fine exhibition contest last year against Denver before he was injured and lost for the season.
The Redskins traded fifth- and seventh-round picks to Seattle for Testerman and a seventh-round choice, and they still think he has ability. But he is not a good practice player, so they are hoping he gets untracked Saturday.
This will be the pro debut of No. 1 choice Art Monk, who will be joined at wide receiver by such other early camp standouts as free agent Zion McKinney and ninth-round choice Lawrence McCullough, a converted quarterback from Illinois.
They will be catching passes from quarterbacks Kim McQuilken and Greg Mortensen. Starting quarterback Joe Theismann will not play.